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Hidden gems: Fort Steilacoom Park

Peaceful retreat close to JBLM

The gorgeous, shady paved trail at Ft. Steilacoom is perfect for a workout or a simple walk. Photo credit: Jackson Hogan

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To be honest, if you're looking for a perfect, multi-faceted park, visit Point Defiance. However, this is supposed to be about hidden gems, right? If you're constantly being named one of the best city parks and running trail destinations in the country, you forfeit being underrated. You know what is an underrated park? Fort Steilacoom.

Contrary to its confusing name, Fort S. is not actually in the adorable seaside hamlet of Steilacoom, but right next to it, deep in west Lakewood. The 360-acre park is filled with a variety of activities and habitats, which makes it very flexible depending on what you want out of it.

The first thing you'll notice is the massive space of open grass with a few baseball dugouts and soccer goals spaced throughout. If you want to take your buddies out to play some football, kickball, baseball, you name it, there aren't many better places in the South Sound. Sure, you can find other, more modern baseball and soccer fields, but you might have to hop a fence. Ft. S. offers massive, open grounds with easy access. And speaking of open grounds, there's also an off-leash dog park, in case your mutt needs a little freedom every now and then.

Fort S. may not have a zoo, but it's still a fantastic place for families. Recently, a castle-themed playground was built in the center of the park, and your kids can waste away hours goofing around in it. When the clan starts to get a bit hungry, you can always go the picnic route with a blanket, but because this is Washington, and rain happens, Fort S. has covered benches that you can reserve.

However, the crowning jewel of the park has to be its extensive trails. First off, there's a paved path that goes around Waughop Lake that's perfect for walkers or families. Unfortunately, the lake isn't safe for swimming, but you can certainly have some fun with racing remote-control toy boats, as many tend to do on a sunny day. The paved path is also nice and shady, for when the temperature becomes scorching. However, if you're a more experienced jogger or runner, there are small paths throughout the park that take you up and about the hills near Waughop. Lakes High School, right next door, has used the trails in Fort S. for a while now, and the South Puget Sound League cross-country championships have been often held there. If it's good enough for the area's best young athletes, it's certainly good enough for your average jogger. Don't worry, you can avoid the hills if you need to.

Just to recap: Fort Steilacoom has massive, open fields for almost any sport, a well-designed playground, an off-leash dog park, a gorgeous paved lakeside path, and miles of running trails. Oh, and here's the best part: It's less than 20 minutes away from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Is there anything more you could ask from a park?

Fort Steilacoom Park, open 24/7, 8714 87th St. SW, Lakewood, 253.983.7741.

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